Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Bogota--Streets for People, and Art (part 1)
Posted by Gin
Michael and I had been eager to visit Bogota ever since its former mayor, Enrique Penalosa, came to Chicago to keynote a Break the Gridlock conference in the early aughts. He rode in Critical Mass with us and, at the conference, shared inspiring stories of initiating Bus Rapid Transit corridors, wresting street space from cars for bikes, and organizing ciclovias on Sundays--all in a city 3 times as large as Chicago. Visions of this transportation paradise enticed us to pick Bogota as a place to visit after our time in Ecuador.
After Miguel took a very long nap, we went for our first walk around our hostel. Like in Quito and many other truly old cities, the streets and sidewalks are narrow, with colorful, sturdy buildings facing each other--close enough to toss a bag of sugar from one across the street to another. There tend to be few parkways or tree lined streets; instead, the open spaces are in secret courtyards and expansive plazas and parks.
We quickly stumbled into one of the plazas and Miguel chased pigeons around for a while, a great way to stretch his legs. He kept disrupting? adding to? other people's photo shoots. We then wandered around looking for a cash machine, which afforded us the opportunity to cross many streets, sometimes more than once, as we followed false leads and backtracked.
It was rush hour, and a surprising number of roads were closed to cars. People were everywhere, filling the space between buildings, paying no heed to where curbs normally separate legs from machines. Miguel quickly got used to the freedom, and we had to keep grabbing his hand at intersections: "Honey, careful, this street *does* have cars."
As the sun was setting on the vast urban valley below, we found a cajero (after I finally asked some store keepers on hat row where we might find "una maquina que dar dinero. . ." Horrible Spanish but it did the trick.) The streets also reopened to cars, which zipped around like angry bees. I grabbed Miguel's hand a little tighter, and took the curb side of our now limited to sidewalks journey.
We ate tamales on the 2nd floor of a tiny cafe that has been open since the early 1800's. Ten diners chowed elbow to elbow in a space much smaller than standard restaurant bathrooms in the US.
"Oh no!" I thought, "Some folks are not pleased with the efforts at public pep!" Turns out these posters actually decry the internal war in Colombia, where the "military" gets rewards for killing "guerrillas," and sometimes just takes peasants from villages as victims--ie, "false positives.". . .The poster means no more killing of innocent civilians, and presumably no more killing in general.
Sometimes I am disgusted by how easy it is for us to stay in the cozy tourist slipstream. I have been in South America for nearly half a year, and yet remain horribly illiterate about local politics, economic issues and cultures. Maybe, for me, travel is not so much about learning as wonder and then going back home with a stronger desire to learn more.
Back to the slip stream. . . Michael reported on much of our day already, so I will skip to Sunday, the eagerly anticipated Ciclovia.
Our morning again began with some surprising street art. Local police officers blocked intersections so that groups of people could use colored sawdust to create religious mosaics carpeting the streets. We saw one group consulting with a priest (?) in full black robes. He must have been seven feet tall. At first I thought he was on stilts and just part of the overall spectacle.
We had breakfast at a french pastry shop with Margaret, who then gamely accompanied us to the military museum. Miguel wanted to see the planes and canons. . . we try to balance this with much talk of non-violence. "Sweet pea, please remember to use words, not hitting, if you are angry." I have been thinking lately that it's also important for him to learn to sometimes keep words in his head.
She, Michael and Miguel managed to dodge the longwinded explanation of the uniforms display, leaving me behind to nod and smile at the earnest young man trying to explain in quick Spanish the differences between the eras. I think I did catch that at some point large posters were used to ask Colombians to donate money to clothe and equip soldiers. He also made a point of showing me the lone female mannequin.
At the end of his speech, I thanked him and excused myself to look for my family. He would have talked more, but I explained that Miguel really just wanted to see the planes again. Michael laughed at my politeness, but hey, I can be a monologuer too.
Speaking of, this is getting long, as usual, so I will save the ciclovia report for my next post, which I hope will be before we get back to Chicago where all my memories will start to melt and seep into remembrances of other trips to old, bustling cities.